Queer needs commons! Transgressing the fiction of self-ownership, challenging Westocentric proprietism
More than ten years ago queer theorist Margaret Davies stated that ‘queer as a theory and practice’ has not yet ‘managed to create a new understanding of property’, even though some major issues of queer criticisms – modern ideas of a stable and fixed self, a coherent and autonomous subject/ivity – are fundamentally shaped by the (liberal/libertarian1) fiction of property in the person and/or2 (self-)ownership (Davies 1999: 342). Davies argues that if queer theories’ purpose is to re-conceptualize these very modes of ‘being’ on a foundational level, then modes of ‘having’ as well as the problematic interlinkages of ideas of ‘having’ and ‘being’ have to be radically re-thought as well (ibid.). Davies’ (ibid.: 330) claim for an ‘altered understanding and practice of property’ (not only) in queer contexts correlates with an ongoing feminist, race-critical, anarchist and (post-)Marxist debate about the dangerous implications and effects of the liberal/libertarian ‘myth’ of property in the person and/or self-ownership, thereby discussing how these powerful legal and philosophical fiction(s) may or may not legitimate to ‘sell’ (all3) parts of oneself, one’s own labor or – according to recent feminist and bioethical debates – parts of one’s own body on the capitalist market on the basis
of a ‘free will’ (see Cohen 1995; Pateman 2002; Phillips 2011; Richardson 2010; Taylor 2005). While some critical thinkers (Cohen 1995; Ingram 1994; Pateman 2002) argue that the idea of property in person serves to create and legitimate subordination and/or exploitation in capitalist economies by declaring aspects of one’s own property as alienable (his/her labor, talents) and therefore subject to a ‘freely’ chosen ‘contract’, not only liberals/libertarians but also feminists or human rights defenders see emancipatory potentials in the concept of (‘full’) selfownership (Richardson 2010; Cohen 1995). Self-ownership is therefore often linked with the idea of having ‘full’ control or a governing right over oneself (including one’s own body) as well as with concepts of self-realization and selfdetermination. Thus, questions regarding the compatibility and constant tension of (‘full’) self-ownership with the requirements of capitalist economies (‘selling’ parts of one’s own) are highly debated by critical thinkers who point particularly to the ‘bourgeois’, ‘racialized’ and ‘androcentric’ implications of the idea of fully ‘owing oneself ’.